Category: society

2017, a tipping point and a new mindset

A massive correction is coming to the tech sector, resulting in the end of the second digital gold rush and a return to the fundamentals. Tech companies are increasingly disconnected from what people really need, hardly any meaningful innovation is coming out of those mega structures who, from startups, now look more and more like the monopolies they promised to displace.

The tech industry’s center of gravity is slowly moving towards Asia and Europe. When it comes to Asia, the culture barrier saves us from having to face the fact that Chinese and Korean services are more advanced than ours. When it comes to Europe, the world is starting to take notice after the Euro zone economy outperformed the US in Q1 2017.

The efforts to take humans out of the loop will fail: we will not run out of jobs. Technology destroys occupations, not jobs! And we are pretty good at finding new ways to keep ourselves busy. What I see is a re-emergence of non-technological innovation, long term thinking, in person interactions, and more sustainable values.

What now?

It is time to reframe how we think, so I tried to put words on this new mindset. I believe we need to:

  • Understand that life goes beyond data, that many things are invisible, intangible and unmeasurable: knowledge, intuition, reputation, motivation, identity, leadership, etc . These might very well be the most important things of all, because they are what can’t be put into code.
  • Understand that some innovations are better not used. The only intelligent way to deal with atomic bombs is to learn not to use them. Perhaps some digital technologies deserve the same treatment.
  • Understand that technology is here to serve and augment humans, not replace them.
  • Understand that it’s not about wiping up the past, but taking what’s good from both the past and the future to build a desirable present.
  • Understand that innovation is collective and not individual, that every new idea is built on top of centuries of wisdom and achievements like roads, processors, communication networks, laws, books.
  • Understand that the only way to succeed is to bring both the digital and the “real” world together.
  • Understand that there are no shortcuts, that innovation is hard, slow, and always triggers resistance. That the key is to find the questions first, the answers second.
  • Realize that success is multidimensional and personal. Multidimensional because about more than exits and magazine covers: health, legacy, quality of life, contribution to the advancement of society. Personal because each and every one of us has to define what’s important for her or him, without being overwhelmed by the pre-cooked models of success we are served by the hype.

I believe mixing the values of our “old continent” with the zeitgeist can bring a much needed perspective that will help us move past the notion of innovation, back to the more noble idea of progress.

That millennials rant

Just saw another presentation by a speaker who claimed to decode millennials for a bunch of baby-boomers. I’m getting so tired of these talks. I understand it’s a good business model to make CEOs panic by telling them “you don’t understand anything, pay me a huge amount of money and I’ll make sense of all this for you”, but my god this is such a slippery slope:

  • No, this generation hasn’t invented revolutions. Totalitarian regimes have been overthrown way before social media and mobile phones
  • I’m not seeing a generation with “stronger values”, or that is more “environment conscious”. These kids are like all of us, they would kill for having a new phone every 6 months. I’m sure H&M and Zara are still producing with cheap labour in Bangladesh, and make more money than ever.
  • Any presentation that offers “facts” when making generalizations about a group of hundreds of million of people is suspicious to me. I’m pretty sure geographical, cultural and socio-economical differences make this population heterogeneous.
  • “Millennials are not loyal to brands”. I have no idea how that can be measured, seems to me that running away from bad services or products has nothing to do with age. Have you heard of instagram and snapchat? I feel like millennials are pretty attached to these brands.
  • Millennials want instant gratification in their interactions with brands, but isn’t that the case for everyone?
  • My analysis is the more it changes, the more it stays the same.
  • Still watching hours of entertainment, my time was MTV, now it’s YouTube
  • Consumerism as high as ever, just not on same products and brands and maybe shopping differently (still Amazon = 2% of US retail)
  • People still struggling with how the world goes, same as any youth any time (hippies, punks, grungies, etc)
  • People relying on their friends to make decisions, network just got faster and bigger but that’s about what the novel part is about
  • Entrepreneurship making a comeback, not appearing. Making a comeback, just like after any of the numerous economical/innovation crisis in history
  • People still animated by those ancestral forces: ego, need for attention, social status, peer recognition, etc
  • A generation bringing new tools to the workplace, just like my generation (email, internet) or my dad’s generation (fax, computer) or my grandad’s generation (phone).

Truth.com

Researcher says we are more truthful online than offline, which makes sense when you consider why: because the internet has a long memory, increasing the odds of getting caught.

“Cornell University psychologist Jeffrey Hancock […] says that people are often more truthful in digital media than they are in other modes of communication. His research has found that we are more honest over email than over the phone, and less prone to lie on digital résumés than on paper ones. The Internet, after all, has a long memory; what it offers to would-be deceivers in the way of increased opportunity is apparently offset, over the long run, by the increased odds of getting caught.”

Link

My yearly state of technology and society interview on the RTS

Today at 10am I am on the Swiss national radio in their Médialogues show, interviewed by Mathieu Chevrier for the second part of our yearly state of technologies and society discussion.

Last week we talked about how “e” and “not e” are merging (ecommerce = commerce, elearning = learning), established players are trying to prevent new technologies to emerge, what the Edward Snowden saga teaches us about transparency, control of the internet, and global governance, the importance of personal data and consumer naivety, how technologies are furthering the economical and cultural dominance of the USA, the changing context in which we use our technological tools.

One thing I forget to say – when discussing how most governments made their biggest mistake of the 20th century by not investing more in new technologies – is how smart the Chinese have been, by forcing the emergence of local companies for strategic services like search (Baidu) and communication (Sina Weibo).

Every year I always look forward to this particular intervention, because radio is the last media that gives people time to really go deep and touch on big ideas.

You can download last week’s show here, and listen to today’s one here.

Beauty contests days are numbered because of… plastic surgery!

The impact of plastic surgery on society? Beauty contests won’t exist for long, as all contestants start to look exactly the same… Here are the participants to Miss Korea Daegu 2013. As you guessed, Korea is among the top countries in the world when it comes to plastic surgery. There are ads all over the subway, and teenagers are heavy users.

 

3D printing on the frontline

It seems a technology becomes legit when the US army starts to invest in it. Well, 3D printing, your time has come to shine to “enable soldiers to quickly and cheaply produce spare parts for their weapons and equipment”. Just like there used to be soldiers dedicated to carrying communication equipment, we will soon have poor souls carrying 3D printers.

“Parts for [sensitive equipment like GPS or drones] break frequently, and many of them are produced overseas, so there’s a long lead time for replacement parts. […] Instead of needing a massive manufacturing logistics chain, a device that generates replacement parts is now small and light enough to be easily carried in a backpack or on a truck.” […]

The 3D printers are now being rolled out to the frontline in shipping containers that act as mobile production labs. The first of the $2.8m labs, which contains 3D printers and CNC machines to make parts from aluminium, plastic and steel, was sent to Afghanistan in July this year. While there are no plans to print weapons from scratch, the labs could produce spare parts to repair them, according to Pete Newell, head of the US army’s Rapid Equipping Force.

Link

The day weapons can be printed is coming sooner rather than later (a 3D printed gun was already successfully fired), and then we will be hit again by an old truth: “technology is a double edged sword”.

 

If only plastic surgery could come with updated genes

Man divorces his wife for getting him to marry her under false pretenses. She had $100k of plastic surgery, never told her husband, but he found out when she gave birth to an ‘incredibly ugly’ baby.

Mr Feng said he took issue with his wife’s looks only after the couple’s daughter was born. He was shocked by the child’s appearance, calling her ‘incredibly ugly’ and saying she looked like neither one of her parents.

Mr Feng was so outraged that he initially accused his wife of cheating. Faced with the accusation, his wife admitted to spending around £62,000 on plastic surgery which had altered her appearance drastically.

She had the work done before she met her husband and never told him about it after they met. Mr Feng filed for divorce saying his wife had deceived him and convinced him to marry her under false pretenses.

The judge agreed with him and awarded him the damages.

Link

I will refrain from commenting on the sad human side of the story (poor kid really), but this makes me wonder if there could be such a thing as DNA surgery? Could science come up with a way to adapt your genes to your new face after you had a procedure? I know selection is possible, but could ovums be manipulated to reflect the mother’s new face?

Sounds like a completely crazy idea, pushing a lot of ethical boundaries. But apparently we live in a world where such a need exists, so I wouldn’t be too surprised if it happens…

Parts of the machine

Is it fair to try to treat people as if they were part of an electronic system? The NYT has a disturbing article on the effects of computer optimization and big data on the workforce in the retail industry. People are more called at the last minute by “the software” to do shifts that have been calculated depending on the weather, and optimized to reduce costs:

If the mercury is going to hit 95 the next day, the software will suggest scheduling more employees based on the historic increase in store traffic in hot weather. […] The [employee scheduling] program breaks down schedules into 15-minute increments. So if the lunchtime rush at a particular shop slows down at 1:45, the software may suggest cutting 15 minutes from the shift of an employee normally scheduled from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

[…] the scheduling software “helped us take 400, 500 basis points out of our labor costs,” or 4 to 5 percentage points, a savings of millions of dollars a year. The software keeps tabs on when workers are available, their skills and who makes the most sales per hour.

The result is that everybody works part time, flexible, unpredictable shifts. And who wins in the end? The stores of course. People who work 6h are more effective than those who work 8.

Mr. Flickinger, the retail consultant, said companies benefited from using many part-timers. “It’s almost like sharecropping — if you have a lot of farmers with small plots of land, they work very hard to produce in that limited amount of land,” he said. “Many part-time workers feel a real competition to work hard during their limited hours because they want to impress managers to give them more hours.”

Ms. Rosser, the Jamba Juice district manager, amplified on the advantages.“You don’t want to work your team members for eight-hour shifts,” she said. “By the time they get to the second half of their shift, they don’t have the same energy and enthusiasm. We like to schedule people around four- to five-hour shifts so you can get the best out of them during that time.”

Link

What we have here is another case of businesses putting their computers interests ahead of their workforce’s interests. Humans have to adapt to the algorithms, not the other way around. I wonder how far this can go. Would you rather have a struggling to survive, secretly unhappy but optimized workforce, or people who love their jobs, are energetic but cost you 15m of extra time here and there?

This appears to me as short term thinking. Results will go up in the early years as the result of computer optimization, then they will decrease as good workers (those with options) avoid those particular stores, and clients start to be turned off by a poisonous atmosphere.

I’m constantly amazed by how much algorithms are governing our lives. On this very topic, check Kevin Slavin’s talk at Lift, a real masterpiece.

What does ketchup for dogs tell us about society?

Seen yesterday at the supermarket, ketchup for dogs. Add it on top of their food and yummy.

Every time I see such a thing I can’t help but think that:
– marketing has definitely trumped common sense
– one hundred years ago a dog that would escape into the wild probably had a chance to survive. Now I’m pretty sure the life expectancy of a Brekkies Deli Sauce fed dog is as high as the one of Paris Hilton in a shopping mall that does not take credit cards. Whatever remains of wilderness dogs had is, or will soon be, gone.
– those products involving animals are strong reminders that developed societies manage their priorities in a weird way. Reminds me of the animal weight loss clinic I spotted a couple of weeks ago.

Here is the ad for the Brekkies Deli Sauce (“exists in three flavors!”):

First names vs baccalauréat mentions

A fascinating sociological study by Baptiste Coulmont who analyses every year the first names of students who received a “mention très bien” (the highest distinction) at the baccalauréat. First names do not influence results, but they reveal the social background of the student – and therefore his/her chances – as names get trendy in different parts of French society at different times.

Not surprisingly, posh French names are on top of the rankings, with immigrants and american influenced (= TV influenced) names at the bottom.

“More than 25% of  the Madeleine, Irene, Come and Ariane who passed the exam received a mention très bien. More than one Marie-Anne, one Anne-Claire and one Gaspard of five received the mention, obtained by 15% of Violette, Apolline, Iris, Beatrice, Judith, Domitille, Hortense, Fleur, Daphne, Noe, Lara, Henri, Adele, Rose, Augustin, Astrid and Eleonore. […]

On the opposite side, none of the 125 Youssef and 105 Nabil got the mention, […] and only one or two Sandy, Alison or Sofiane get the mention. 4 Christopher (on 300) and 5 Mohamed (on 400). 8 Cassandra and 8 Sabrina on 470.